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Cubs rediscover their offense
After dispatching with Tampa Bay in an 8-1 rout Thursday at Wrigley Field, the Cubs turned their attention to the matchup everyone has been anticipating since last winter.
The New York Yankees come to Wrigley on Friday for the first time since the 1938 World Series, pitting baseball's most successful organization against one that's legendary for its lack of championships.
The centerpiece of the series will take place Saturday when Yankees great Roger Clemens goes for his 300th career victory and his 4,000th strikeout while facing Kerry Wood.
In the minds of some, it's the Cubs vs. the world this weekend.
"We know that everybody's against us," Cubs third baseman Lenny Harris said. "We know we just have to keep battling and stay consistent. A lot of people are kind of surprised at the way we're playing.
"We had a good April and kind of died down in May a little bit. That's baseball. You have to pretty much stay on top of your game. We know we've been in some cold weather lately.
"We're playing just good enough to win, but we're not where we want to be right now."
After a pregame meeting called by manager Dusty Baker, the Cubs won a series for the first time since taking two of three in Houston on May 23-25, improving to 32-26 and remaining percentage points ahead of the Astros in the National League Central.
Three Devil Rays errors helped the Cubs score eight runs off starter Dewon Brazelton (1-5), giving Matt Clement plenty of breathing room in his first victory since April 18.
Working on eight days' rest, Clement (3-6) snapped a five-game losing streak. He allowed one run on seven hits in seven innings and struck out seven.
"My arm feels a little bit rejuvenated," Clement said.
Corey Patterson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and Sammy Sosa had an RBI single in the first inning, his first RBI on a base hit since May 2.
Now come the first-place Yankees, bringing back memories of Babe Ruth's "called shot" home run in the 1932 World Series.
It looked like a mismatch when the schedule came out, but the Cubs are better than most expected, while the Yankees are 11-19 since starting 23-6.
"We need to win some games this weekend," said starter Mark Prior, who is to pitch Sunday. "We can't just sit back and be spectators ourselves. We have to go out there and beat these guys. We're in a dogfight right now in our own [division] race."
The series already has been hyped, but Baker said the Cubs are ready for anything at this point.
"You can't control the hype," Baker said. "All you can do is control the game. We're facing a very good Yankee team, which is struggling a little bit right now.
"It's going to be a heck of a weekend. There are going to be a ton of people here.
We tend to play to the level of the opposition. Hopefully we can correct that and play to our own level and not worry about the opposition."